‘The Mighty Five’ – Alexey Kruglov / Jaak Sooäär Quartet

TheMightyFive

THE PRACTICE of extracting music from one context and artfully adapting it for another has long been a fascination. Church organists, for example, can be such masters of disguise, relishing the opportunity to befuddle their listeners with, normally, the most incongruous of selections. So, this quartet release of sparky arrangements and improvisations by Alexey Kruglov (saxophones) and Jaak Sooäär (electric guitar), based on celebrated Russian classical masterpieces, instantly grabbed the attention.

Saxophonist Alexey Kruglov is a rising, creative star on the Russian and international jazz scene (his 2014 ACT Music release, Moscow, with renowned German pianist Joachim Kühn, of particular note); and Estonian guitarist Jaak Soäär has, for many years, featured prominently in the pop and jazz culture of his homeland. Joining them are seasoned jazz musicians Mihkel Mälgand (bass) and Tanel Ruben (drums).

In a programme of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev (the quartet sometimes include Cezar Cui – hence The Mighty Five), the players somehow retain the integrity of these familiar works whilst shifting them into an altogether different sphere – in turns, beautifully lyrical and punkily brazen. Yet, no matter how far they push the envelope, there is clearly a fundamental, underlying respect for and adherence to the originals.

The orchestral majesty of the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship) is, here, transformed by Kruglov’s alto into a luxurious, TV-theme-like sweep, with Sooäär’s guitar encouraging more energetic, improvised development – an altogether brilliant re-working. Polovtsian Dance (otherwise known as the Chorus of Polovtsian Girls from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor) is powered-up by crunchy rhythm guitar, its irregular metre paving the way for gutsy extemporisations. The first of the quartet’s interpretations from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Old Castle – possesses a fine, bluesy swagger, thanks to the pliant double bass of Mihkel Mägland, Kruglov’s hard sax tone and Sooäär’s high-fretted wails; and, audaciously and raucously, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee is compressed into 75 seconds of intense pleasure, its wild, frenetic, group activity bordering on free jazz.

Mussorgsky’s stately The Great Gate of Kiev is fabulously fashioned with solid drumming, eloquent electric bass improv and the irrepressible scribbles and scrawls of Kruglov’s alto; then a Balakirev piano Nocturne is elegantly reimagined for jazz quartet, amidst hints of restlessness. Mussorgsky’s Baba-Yaga is well-suited to the anarchic romp created here, including some wonderfully chattering soprano against a fast electric bass undercurrent, and Sooäär’s imaginative guitar/electronics are superb – a stand-out track, in fact. To close, Prince Igor’s Aria (Borodin’s emotive No Sleep, No Rest from Prince Igor) is sympathetically realised as extended chamber jazz, its many facets reflecting the shared invention throughout this extraordinary, rather special album.

Released on ArtBeat Music, The Mighty Five may be difficult to locate in the UK as a physical CD, but is available as a download – take a listen at iTunes or Amazon

 

Alexey Kruglov alto, soprano and baby saxophones, train whistle, shouts
Jaak Sooäär electric guitar, live electronics
Mihkel Mälgand double bass, electric bass
Tanel Ruben drums

ArtBeat Music – AB-CD-09-2014-074 (2014)

‘Proof of Light’ – Mark Wingfield

Proof

IMAGINE the late ’70s progressive jazz/rock boom of Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and AllanHoldsworth, and you might be somewhere on the right track to the music of Anglo-American electric guitarist Mark Wingfield. Yet here is a musician who has honed his own, specific approach to the instrument and, consequently, his original, heavy-duty compositions.

Recording for the first time with New York-based label MoonJune Records, Wingfield has partnered with two stalwarts of the current jazz/rock scene – bassist Yaron Stavi (David Gilmour, Phil Manzanera, Robert Wyatt) and drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis (Gilad Atzmon, Jeff Berlin, Tim Garland) – to forge an otherworldly vista of shifting, synthy textures and intense rock-outs. Mark Wingfield’s mercurial guitar technique, frequently at the highest extremity of the fretboard and coaxing extended pitch-bent effects from the tremolo arm, is what defines his signature sound, along with staggering rapidity of improvisation.

Foreboding opener Mars Saffron is instantly redolent of the brilliance of, say, Gary Moore, Jan Hammer or Simon Phillips, as Wingfield’s searing melodies soar over hard-driving electric bass and drums, only pausing briefly amidst synthesised washes. Shadowy Restless Mountains, jangling to metallicised strings, finds Sirkis revelling in its space… at his flamboyant, fire-cracking best; and The Way to Etretat becomes delightfully acoustic as Stavi’s upright bass extemporisations dance around Italian-suggested ambiences, with Wingfield’s later guitar re-entry elevating the whole atmosphere to cinematic soundtrack status (again, Sirkis is irresistibly explosive at the kit).

A mellower, Metheneyesque synth quality to Wingfield’s guitar is found in A Conversation We Had and A Thousand Faces, both offering Wingfield the freedom to elaborate with haunting lyricism. And energized, full-throttle Voltaic resounds to quickfire, rhythmic riffs and gritty, percussive, droned abstractness – echoing Keith Emerson’s roughhouse ELP extravagances, it’s quite a ride!

Summer Night’s Story is an engaging episode of fluctuating colours, Sirkis’ refracting cymbal show especially catching the ear. Koromo’s Tale seems to occupy a cathedral-like vastness, with oriental overtones, as Yaron Stavi’s double bass improvisations set up Wingfield’s own explorations; and title track Proof of Light closes the 54-minute sequence with Sirkis and Stavi supporting Mark Wingfield’s virtuosic, high-wire display before blazing white-hot at its conclusion.

A cursory listen to this album might call for greater variation or augmentation of the trio’s elemental sound – but once immersed in the detail, Proof of Light becomes an intoxicating journey of drama and outstanding technicality.

Further details and audio samples at MoonJune Records.

 

Mark Wingfield electric guitar
Yaron Stavi acoustic and electric bass
Asaf Sirkis drums

markwingfield.com

MoonJune Records (MJR071) – 2015

‘Magna Carta Suite’ – Alex Hutton Trio

AlexHutton

THE CONCEPT of improvisation in Medieval English music seems highly probable as, before the 15th Century, most musicians would have been illiterate. Sharing melodies and words aurally, the likelihood of invention and variation is quite imaginable – and, presumably, a talented, seasoned extemporiser of estampies and danses would have been highly prized.

So, for pianist Alex Hutton, his vision to commemorate this year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, through a themed jazz suite, is entirely appropriate – especially as his dog-walking routine takes in the ancient woodlands around Runnymede and Wraysbury (near Windsor), where the charter was historically sealed. He recalls his outstanding colleagues from 2012 release Legentis – bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Asaf Sirkis – to create a programme of original piano trio music which takes in an English landscape of early music, traditional folk and classical music, with delicate woodwind flecks of baroque flute and cor anglais coruscating through leafy glades.

Alex Hutton’s pictorialisations here can, indeed, be that vivid – his compositions, at times, easily comparable to the soundtracks of small- or big-screen period drama; and there’s even a whiff of Rick Wakeman’s Six Wives in the turbulent, chasing motif of The Barons. The Middle Ages context and sequencing can either be followed or disregarded; but the thematic writing, and the players’ eloquent interpretations of Hutton’s imaginings, are the strong threads which bind this recording together so well.

Old Yew (significantly, under which the Magna Carta was believed to have been signed) opens the album with characteristic sinewy bass from Goloubev, almost as storyteller, leading to the brief, though exquisite, cor anglais melody of King John’s Hunting Lodge. June 15th 1215‘s impish Medieval motif has Hutton’s penny-whistle-suggested high piano frolicking with cor anglais over Sirkis’ hollow percussion (these all feel like scene-setting miniatures) before the pianist’s more recognisably extended ‘jazz trio’ tune, Gutenberg Press, is expanded on by Goloubev’s scampering improvisations.

The tinderbox urgency of Gunpowder and Compass cleverly incorporates the consummate beauty of J S Bach’s Fugue in C Minor, with Hutton’s own, sparkling inventiveness shining above the fizzing impetus of Sirkis and Goloubev; and Self Made Man rapidly switches into sweet romanticism, Hutton’s ear for a lyrical melody followed through by Goloubev (a bassist whose dexterity always impresses). The intentionally bumbling rhythms and Sirkis’ clattering, sputtering exchanges of weaponry in Fog of War poignantly reflect the futility of conflict, replaced by a mournful, dejected reprise of King John’s Hunting Lodge; yet, standing defiant through the ages, Old Yew is again brought into focus with an air of resigned grandeur (Hutton’s musical imagery remaining powerful).

Almost as a postscript, the spoken word of Neil Sparkes illuminates, with drama and pathos, the final two tracks’ reminder of the charter’s values of liberty and fairness (the deep, echoic sonority perhaps a touch exaggerated). Nevertheless, Thoughts Bear Heirs to Memory hinges on the majestic delivery of Sparkes’ own lines such as, “as light for trees, justice needs great ideas to grow”; and concluding As Sunlight Passes rises triumphant, with baroque flute in anthemic character.

The Alex Hutton Trio’s Magna Carta Suite exudes a well-defined Englishness, its not-your-average-piano-trio accessibility fortified by the engaging historic weave.

Released on 15 July 2015, the album is available from Alex’s website, as well as all good jazz and online retailers.

 

Alex Hutton piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Asaf Sirkis drums
with
Liesbeth Allart cor anglais
Liz Palmer baroque flute
Neil Sparkes spoken word

alexhuttonmusic.com

F-IRE – F-IRECD 82 (2015)

‘Variety of Live’ – Samuel Hällkvist

VarietyOfLive

IN 2014, following his 2012 studio release Variety of Loud, Swedish guitarist Samuel Hällkvist made the decision to tour Denmark and Sweden in order to satisfy his curiosity of playing live with his strong personnel of Pat Mastelotto (traps & buttons), Qarin Wikström (voice, keys), Guy Pratt (bass) and Stefan Pasborg (drums).

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitars, devices, midi programming
Pat Mastelotto traps and buttons
Qarin Wikström voice, keys
Guy Pratt bass
Stefan Pasborg drums
with
Richard Barbieri keyboards, synthesizers, programming
Mocako Asano voice
Yazz Ahmed trumpet
Denys Baptiste sax
Yukiko Taniguchi voice

samuelhallkvist.com

Boogiepost Recordings – BPCD020 (2015)

‘Duets’ – Richard Fairhurst & John Taylor

Duets

A TWO-PIANO release already carrying a certain emotional depth – with epitaphs to much-missed jazz musicians Pete Saberton and Kenny Wheeler – acquired an unexpected poignancy when, on 18 July 2015, the sudden death of respected pianist John Taylor was announced. The immeasurable influence of Taylor, both as a musician and a well-loved personality and encourager, has since been well documented in an outpouring of memories, including an affectionate tribute by Simon Purcell and a comprehensive obituary in The Guardian by John Fordham.

The starting point for Duets arose from an invitation to Richard Fairhurst, in 2010, to perform at the Steinway Two Pianos Festival in London. Citing John Taylor as one of his musical heroes (“I first heard JT play when I was a teenager. I bought all his records and listened to them constantly.”), he immediately chose John to duet with, especially as they played together at John’s 70th birthday celebration concert and had also realised that this collaboration had recording potential.

Looking to achieve a contemporary angle, exploring harmony and understatement as well as treading a less beaten track, the project unfolded from the pianists’ initial focus on the music of Bill Evans; and owing much to the fine preparation and recording of the two Steinway Model Ds, Fairhurst and Taylor together created a cohesive account of beauty, intensity, clarity and, at times, remarkable placidity. Indeed, many of these eleven works actually benefit from placing ‘white gallery walls’ between them, the paused isolation providing breathing space to register the detail of each.

A case in point is the sparse, bell-like opening resonance of Epitaph to Sabbo, which evolves into constellatory wonder – and already, any division between the two instruments is almost intangible. Pete Saberton’s own 3 P’s Piece (in two parts) suggests the buoyant ostinato style of Steve Reich, its assertive, hard-wrought melodies contrasting well; and part two’s Ravel-like reflection cannot, it seems, resist in recapitulating to its former, fiendishly difficult animation.

Richard Fairhurst’s Open Book is sweepingly romantic, though also displays melancholic reticence – and the intertwining of themes feels entirely organic. Miniature Epitaph to Kenny finds its effective rhythmic propulsion in manipulated, muted piano strings; and the accentuated tango feel of Wheeler’s Sly Eyes (which John Taylor recorded with the trumpeter on the Moon album with clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi) becomes gloriously showy in this version, its complexity never over-reaching itself.

The broad landscape of Taylor’s Evans Above is a masterpiece – seven and a half minutes which appear to reflect the creative persona of pianist Bill Evans, with folksy, dancing piano phrases breaking out of its pervading, echoic reflection. And, following on, the three-movement suite of Evans’ music paints his Very Early, Turn out the Stars and Re: Person I Knew in very different hues (and, of course, without rhythm section), whilst retaining that familiar chordal sumptuousness – sixteen minutes which demand repeated listening. To round up, Richard Fairhurst’s Growth in an Old Garden creeps both wistfully and meditatively… and for one final time, the four hands of Fairhurst and Taylor are exquisitely combined.

Released on Basho Records on 7 August 2015, Duets is available from Jazz CDs and all good jazz retailers. The originally-planned launch concert, at London’s Southbank Centre on 9 September 2015, has been sensitively re-imagined as a Jazz Piano Summit in dedication to John, featuring Richard, Michael Wollny, Gwilym Simcock and guests.

 

Richard Fairhurst piano
John Taylor piano

richardfairhurst.com
johntaylorjazz.com

Basho Records – SRCD 49-2 (2015)

‘Impromptu’ – The Rodriguez Brothers

Impromptu

THE SUNSHINY Latin zest of new quintet release Impromptu, from New York-based brothers Michael and Robert Rodriguez (trumpet and piano), is wonderfully ingrained with percussive, improvisational high spirits.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Michael Rodriguez trumpet, flugel horn, pandeiro, percussion
Robert Rodriguez piano, percussion
Carlos Henriquez bass
Ludwig Afonso drums
Samuel Torres congas, percussion
with
Roberto Rodriguez drums (track 8)

rodbrosmusic.com

Criss Cross Jazz – Criss 1381 CD (2015)

‘Telegraph Hill’ – Tim Richards’ Hextet

Hextet

A NAME synonymous with great British jazz of the last thirty five years, pianist Tim Richards brought us the invention of his quartet/quintet Spirit Level back in the ’80s and ’90s, followed by the excitement of nine-piece Great Spirit (with the likes of Tony Kofi, Jason Yarde and Seb Rochford). Both were impressive bands when heard live.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Tim Richards piano
Ed Jones tenor sax
Ralph Wyld vibes
Peter Ibbetson drums
Dick Pearce trumpet
Dominic Howles bass

timrichards.ndo.co.uk

Track – CD0215 (2015)